Social isolation

Children could face long-term education and health challenges following pandemic, experts warn

After more than a year of isolation, widespread financial insecurity and the loss of an unprecedented amount of classroom time, experts say many of the youngest Americans have fallen behind socially, academically and emotionally in ways that could harm their physical and mental health for years or even decades (Source: “Damage to Children’s Education — And Their Health — Could Last a Lifetime,” Kaiser Health News, July 1).

“This could affect a whole generation for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. “All kids will be affected. Some will get through this and be fine. They will learn from it and grow. But lots of kids are going to be in big trouble.”

Many kids will go back to school this fall without having mastered the previous year’s curriculum. Some kids have disappeared from school altogether, and educators worry that more students will drop out. Between school closures and reduced instructional time, the average U.S. child has lost the equivalent of five to nine months of learning during the pandemic, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. that was released in December.

Educational losses have been even greater for some minorities. Black and Hispanic students — whose parents are more likely to have lost jobs and whose schools were less likely to reopen for in-person instruction — missed six to 12 months of learning, according to the McKinsey report.


Telehealth use rapidly expands in Ohio during pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak is fueling an expansion of telehealth as state and federal officials seek to reduce the strain on the health care system (Source: “Coronavirus spurs growth of telehealth in Ohio,” Columbus Dispatch, March 26, 2020).

Allowing patients to meet with a doctor and get medical services via online video conferencing increases access to care while limiting face-to-face interactions that would occur during office or hospital visits, with the goal of reducing the risk of spreading the disease. It also can preserve personal protection equipment, which is in short supply.

As thousands more Ohioans turn to tax-funded Medicaid for health coverage during the pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order last week to expand opportunities for telehealth for the program’s roughly 3 million beneficiaries.

In addition, Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran told caseworkers at the county level to suspend annual renewals required to maintain coverage and to focus on enrolling newly eligible applicants as quickly as possible. Applications for the health insurance for the poor and disabled jumped 25% last week from the previous week.


Poll: Many rural Americans struggle to pay medical bills, access health care

A new national poll finds that while rural Americans are mostly satisfied with life, there is a strong undercurrent of financial insecurity that can create very serious problems for many people living in rural communities (Source: “Poll: Many Rural Americans Struggle With Financial Insecurity, Access To Health Care,” National Public Radio, May 21, 2019).

The findings come from two surveys National Public Radio conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on day-to-day life and health in rural America.

Several findings stand out: A substantial number (40%) of rural Americans struggle with routine medical bills, food and housing. And about half (49%) say they could not afford to pay an unexpected $1,000 expense of any type.

One-quarter of respondents (26%) said they have not been able to get health care when they needed it at some point in recent years. That's despite the fact that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) have health insurance of some sort — a level of coverage that is higher now than a decade ago, in large part owing to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in many states.


Studies link social isolation, health problems

Researchers are finding that social isolation is a growing epidemic — one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences (Source: “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 2016).

Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. And a wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

Another analysis that pooled data from 70 studies and 3.4 million people found that socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age.